Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Compliments of the Chef - Food in Bangkok

At an International conference this last month, I ran into two Indian guys. It was lunch time and there was a buffet. They were angry at the lack of vegetarian choices when I pointed out a special vegetarian buffet on the side. The two guys rushed towards it and helped themselves to bland fried rice and sautéed vegetables. One guy pointed towards ‘vegetable lasagna’ and asked what it was to which the other guy replied “That’s also a curry, you can mix it with rice”.

I was about to shake my head and judge them when I remembered what a giant loser and pain in the ass I was many years back. On my first day at college, I shocked my friends when I told them that “I never had a samosa in my life”. My friend Appu, immediately set to task. During the first few trials, I would carefully dissect the samosa, removing all the potato curry and sliding it over to Appu’s plate while eating the shell with pride. Curry puff got a similar treatment. I would chew along the perimeter, careful not to touch any bit of the curry and triumphantly declare that I was getting better. 4 years of college and many trials later, I learnt to love samosas and curry puffs, but I was still a very picky eater. When I first moved to the US, I used to eat only at Indian restaurants. A good part of my courtship with Saru was spent on him trying to make me eat a bagel and cream cheese.

As I sat to have dinner at an award winning French restaurant, I realized that I had come a long way from my picky self. I do not profess to be a foodie, I am still conservative in my food choices, but I am definitely getting bolder and expanding my horizons with every new trip. Of the nine meals I had in Bangkok (Good grief..I am counting my time in number of meals instead of days!!), 8 of them were Thai, so one night, I decided to eat French food. The Reflexions is a modern French cuisine set in the very opulent Plaza Athénée hotel. The menu was dominated by meat and seafood. Nothing in the appetizer/soup section looked that great and I wanted to save space for dessert, so I ordered a main course of fish and settled down taking pictures of the place and pretending to be deeply engrossed in a restaurant guide of Bangkok.

The bread basket arrived soon enough. The wafting aromas of the warm bread made me realize how hungry I was, so I took a quick picture and dug in. Not surprisingly it was great. A few minutes later, the waitress came to my table

"Compliments of the Chef Ma'm" She said while placing a beautifully decorated mini-appetizer -"Quail egg mousse with red pepper salad"

"Quail egg mousse?" I asked, just to be sure. The old Vam would have politely sent back the dish, but the new Vam decided to give it a try. "I will spit it back in the plate if I don't like it". I told myself and took a tiny Lilliputian bite and it was not as gross as I thought. I ate the rest of it while complimenting myself on the achievement.

"Compliments of the Chef Ma'm" The waitress came back again with a large bowl of soup. -"Lobster Bisque with Truffle emulsion and cream topping"

Lobster? This time, the question was for myself. I never had lobster in my life, but I heard people rave about it. In the spirit of my new found courage, I decided to give it a try. I took one sip and almost kicked myself in the foot for never trying lobster. The soup was without doubt one of the best soups I EVER had. I was expecting a fishy soup, but this had a very intense earthy flavor. I finished the entire bowl and wiped it clean with bread!

I was just getting ready for my main course, when I saw the waitress bring another dish towards my table. "Another complimentary dish? This is insane!!" I told myself. This one had some ice-sculptures on the plate and a small open tin can. The lid on the can read "Caviar"!!!!!

"Compliments of the Chef Ma'm".

CAVIAR?? Are you kidding me?? There was just no freaking way I was going to eat tiny little fish eggs!! uh uh...No way!! Forget it! Haute cuisine to Hell!! I am sorry, but THIS is where I draw the line.

Smiling at my vigorously shaking head, the waitress said " This is watermelon caviar topped with passion fruit seeds ". Whew!!! I heaved a sigh of relief and happily accepted it and went on to photograph it. Lighting was poor and I took so long trying to photograph it without flash that the sculptures started melting!! Taking the cue, I tasted the caviar. It was quite delicious, but a LOT of work to eat water melon, I have to say!

Then came the dish I actually ordered "Roasted Dover Sole with wild mushrooms duxelles, roasted baby artichokes and truffle emulsion". The Sole was tasty, but nowhere in comparison to the awesome lobster bisque. Saru looked at this picture and said " Jeez, what did you do to tick off the chef??? He spit all around your fish!". Only my husband can come up with something so disgustingly imaginative!! It was light cream!!

Chef Thibault walked up to my table. " I hope you enjoyed the food. The main course was going to take a while, so I sent you the soup and stuff". I thanked him profusely and asked him how he made the soup. Remove the claws and cook the lobster head in the broth until it reduces to a soup consistency. I think I was happier not knowing how it was made!

Then began the long process of selecting the dessert. The chef described everything on the menu (in that utterly cool French accent, complete with sound effects and hand gesticulations to explain texture). I was so taken by the performance that I ordered "Degustation or Tasting Menu" . It included small portions of pineapple ravioli, raspberry tartlet, vanilla lime sorbet, caramelized Vanilla mille-feuille and my favorite Moelleux au chocolat.

>I liked the warm pineapple ravioli. The tartlet was just OK and the sorbet horrible. I have never liked sorbets. I think they are weird food masquerading as desserts and should be banished from this section. This one was lime sorbet and would have been great as a mouthwash flavor... if you ask me!!! The big surprise item was the mille-feuille. It was a small pastry with thin, delicate, buttery layers of puff pastry filled with soft, luscious vanilla cream (cream, not ice-cream). The pastry layers and the vanilla cream melt, the minute they touch your tongue. "Food Porn is what this is", Saru said when I described it to him.

I saved the best for the last- the warm chocolate lava cake! The key to a good lava cake is good chocolate. You know you are eating bad chocolate when it tastes like Bournvita (I challenge you to try Domino's Rs.25 chocolate lave cake and a Bournvita shake and tell me if they taste different). Based on what I have tasted over the years, you do not want to skimp on the budget when buying Chocolate. More expensive is almost always more tasty. Needless to say, the lava cake at this upscale restaurant was beyond fantastic. I loved it so much that I did something very uncharacteristic of me - I ate slowly savoring every bite. When I called Saru later that night to describe the experience, he did not believe me. He knows that I am not dainty when there are fruits or desserts next to me. I am the type of girl that eats grapes, 2 at a time (one on each cheek), so that when I bite into it, the taste explodes in the entire mouth at the same time.

The very first bite of the lava cake was so amazingly fantastic that I did not want the sensation to end. Warm spongy cake with soft, smooth, velvety chocolate... almost induces a state of ecstasy!! The cake and the sorbet were the only items left on the plate and as I was staring at them, I came up with a brilliant plan!! I ate a small spoonful of the lemon sorbet. It was so horribly yucky that it completely erased the taste of chocolate cake and cleansed my palette. I sipped some water and then went back to the lava cake and took a bite. Voila! It was a repeat of my out of the world first-bite experience. I went back and forth between the awful sorbet and the awesome cake and had the first bite experience for the entire cake! I am so thankful that the restaurant was almost empty that night, otherwise, people would have stared at the crazy Indian lady whose facial expressions kept alternating between an "ewwww gross" to "OMG...this is heaven" multiple times in the 15 minutes it took me to finish dessert.

"The perfect animation of that would be Homer Simpson alternating between "ewwww..." and "ummm..." said the husband before jumping into character making weird sounds and distorted facial expressions!

What was your recent food experience? Leave a comment!


  1. You certainly are not the picky eater that Bhas and Saru have complained about! Loved the narration...your culinary writing is as awesome as your travelogues. I am so glad that I am reading this while drinking my morning coffee and not during lunch hour! Saru's comments are hilarious..spit, food porn?! Only he can come up with these descriptions. Those desserts look so yummy...got to have one today

  2. Thanks Kala. I am glad you liked the post. I have realized that writing comes easier when I don't try too hard.

    Saru is the grand master of 'silly'. All morning I had to endure bad imitations of Homer Simpson eating the sorbet and chocolate!!
    Actually he kept giving sound effects the entire time he was reading this....the part where I say that I eat 2 grapes at a time, he made the sound of an explosion going off!! Silly goose!

  3. Umm yeah ... that did sound like food porn ! No wonder your site is blocked at my work !!!

  4. I like your food blog but I like Saru's comments even better ... food porn ha:-)Nice photos and I am waiting to see cabbages and condom photos.

  5. Vamsee, loved the blog and the pictures!! But seriously,' never had a samosa in my life....!!!" All I can think to write is Why??? How could you not??? Where did you hang out with friends???..
    You know, after reading the post,I have no hopes for my daughter now who's a terribly picky eater, I keep saying she'll grow out of it and start eating better...
    Ahemm, I think NOT!!!;-)
    I was never a big fan of chocolate growing up but thanks to my hormones and advancing age (LOL!), Im a Chocoholic now ( not any which ones, but simply the best ones wud do)... See More
    This little place (I forget the name of the restaurant)in Zermatt (on the foot of the Matterhorn,Switzerland) served this miniscule portion of Chocolate mousse (the dessert had a
    Fancy Swiss-German name of course). Can I say I died and went to Chocolate heaven!! I dont know if it was the view + the chocolate, or simply the chocoloate..it Was sooooooooo melt-in-your-mouth good.
    The Swiss really know their chocolate!
    Oh and the chocolate lava goodness looks luuuuuvely !

  6. Very nice blog Vamsee!! I could almost taste the chocolate lava cake (I am not even a chocolate fan):) and Saru's comments adds kick to the scene.
    Ooh did I forget to mention...I am too glad its not lunch time :)

  7. Gosh, an other of your wonderful entertaining posts. No matter what you write about - I am glued to the screen.

    How can you even come up with alternating the food? Simple me just wouldn't have eaten the sorbet...:))

    I have to say, I am a foodie. I practically love everything. I am a vegetarian in 'real life', but when I travel to unknown shores I can't trust myself - I still don't know how some of those delicious treats were made of I ate in Vietnam. Though I draw the line when it 'looks' like meat, and Caviar - forget it - just won't happen. Except, of course, it's made of melon:)

    What I don't like though, is chocolate. And I am Swiss. Go figure!

  8. First, note to self: Do not read food blogs, esp one with photos, on a non-full stomach. I swear it's only 10.30a here and I am already hungry and I just had a bagel at 9.30a.

    Like I said earlier in one of your blogs, you have come a long way. I am just recalling all the times that we tried to get you to even try something other than chicken....(and for some reason I am gettig a flash back into a really long, I mean LONG, brown sweater:D)

    enjoyed reading it - i think I enjoyed imagining you eating the lava cake/sorbet combo. I know what you mean about savoring every bite - i do that with my icecream (watching DOOD) in the evevenings. Now I am off to get a brownie fix.

    And, oh, thanks for the honarary mention. I am proud to be known as the one who introduced you to Samosa (and dont forget the Masala dosa at Kamat)

  9. Love it!! Absolutely love it! Amusing, witty, delectable and sensual too! Boy you made even the reading so delectable as close to the actual savoring I believe :-)

  10. Loved the writing! I read the article on an empty tummy, now I'm feeling tortured (you should probably post a warning as a header to the page!). What did the watermelon caviar taste like? Awesome pictures, by the way. You really never had a samosa until then? Boy, you shouldn't have put it in writing...this will haunt you for a long time ;) Now waiting for cabbages and condoms :))

  11. Lavanya: :):)

    Mridula: Thanks

    Suganya: Saru was very pleased to read that:) I am working on the Thai food post. You will definitely see picts of C&C.

    Vismaya: I used to not like Chocolate at all and I think the reason is because we grew up around bad chocolate. I recently had Cadbury's and it was really bad chocolate. In fact, most items that are called chocolates here are caramel and toffees. Try a Belgian truffle or some good brand and I promise you will be hooked.

  12. Priya,
    If I changed from a super picky eater to a quasi-foodie, then there is hope for your daughter!! I do think food tastes better when we are on vacation...and especially in beautiful places like Zermatt!!

    It might be that I am wearing colored glasses, but I seem to be surrounded with travelers and foodies!!
    As for the alternating eating, I think you devise new ways of entertainment when you are alone:):) BTW, how can you be Swiss and not like chocolate...isn't is un-patriotic?

  13. Im picky and Im also veg ..and I dont compromise on that..so my only adventures are in the dessert sections

  14. Appu,
    I was such a giant pain in the ass wrt food and clothes. I do remember that disgusting sweater I wore everywhere in UMass. I also remember how much I pained you and Balu when we went on the Grand Canyon trip!!
    Oh...I forgot about masala dosa. Gosh...what will my new friends think of me!!!

    You guys are taking this 'food porn' thing a little too far!! The writing was *sensual*????? OMG....I need to be careful.

    In case you read the comments, you will also find out that I ate a masala dosa for the first time also in college...and I am a south Indian...so you can say that the bar was set way too low!!

    Vegetarians do not have it easy, but I have a bunch of veggie friends who manage to find lots of exciting veggie restaurants. You do have to research for them.

  15. I am wondering... are you a foodie or a photographer or both ? :)
    The post is very mouth watering.

    BTW, both lobster & caviar are good & healthy options.

    P.S.- I can see why you don't get updates of my blog. You haven't changed the url. :)

  16. All the while i was reading this post, i could not help but wonder..so you were actually taking pics of each of one these delicacies before eating? That paints a very funny image in my head.. he he.. :D
    Needlessly to say, the pics have come out deliciously well and i am very glad to find a fellow foodie... After all they say "Koti Vidyalu Kuti Kosam" (I am saying this assuming u know telugu else ask any gult friends of yours ;))

    And coming to my recent food experience, it's biriyani all the way..delicious mouthwatering hyderabadi biriyani! :)

  17. Nisha,
    Neither a foodie nor a Photographer...but trying/pretending to be both!!
    Will update the url.

    Oh yes....I took the pics before eating. Must look ridiculous...but I was alone and had to pass time. Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that the chef/waitress took me for a writer or something because I was writing and taking pics. No wonder I got so many complimentary dishes!!
    Oh...and btw, I am from Andhra, so I understand that very well!!

  18. Saru: you shoulnd't let Vamsee eat alone. Who knows what she's coming up next time with;)

    Vamsee: I am Canada's first chocolate refugee;)

  19. After reading ur post Vam, I have a just one suggestion to make…u and ur food…Go get a room!!;-)

    Seriously, your descriptions of the food are just so opulently sensuous and really vibrant! Anyone reading this blog, will immediately understand 3 things about u:
    1) That you love your food
    2) That you love ur writing and
    3) That you love creating a full-fledged travel experience even out of what might have been a tedious work-trip to others!
    The poetry in ur food descriptions juxtaposed with the hilarity of Saru’s comments make for killer entertainment!

    I am ready to bet five bahts (the stupid auto-spell check thing is converting it to ‘baths’ when I mean ‘bahts’ – u dimwitted Microsoft generated idiocracy!), - that the chef was deathly scared of this foreign-looking single person sitting with a hi-fi camera, clicking everything in sight before taking delicate bites, making rapid notes in her book…that he probably assumed the worst…and started his sycophancy hoping to see his restaurant’s review in Thailand’s latest hot international newspaper the next day!

    Also, you are getting to be a real expert in taking pictures..I can’t tell if these have been taken by u or Saru! Really nice!
    I loved the Devilish presentation of the quail egg mousse and the sheer exotic-ness (??) of the water-melon caviar comes close..(not quite,..but really close…) to making a convert of this fruit hater.

    And don’t you think now that you have wasted away the better part of ur early life, that hadn’t made any acquaintance with Samosas yet? What about Vada pav, or Misal…or Papdi chat??

    Man this comment is getting to be almost as long as ur blog itself…I swear I always start out saying I will write a line or two and its ends up snowballing from there!!
    And lastly, I am really glad to see that other people spend time at work reading and commenting on their friends’ travel blogs too!! :D

  20. Vidya,
    That was HILARIOUS!! First...people call this food porn and now you want me to get a room::):):)

    Trips of any kind (work or otherwise) can be fun depending on your attitude and with food this good....it can't go wrong!!

    I never had samosa, curry puff, chat...any of the roadside stuff while growing up!!!!...so am making up for it now:)

    BTW, *I* took the pictures. Saru didn't even go to Bangkok, remember!!

  21. oh wow!!! I should have been warned before going through the whole post. Everything looked so delicious- and the descriptions were scrumptious.

  22. Imagine yourself in Homer's shoes before you read the Lava-cake/Sorbet para. It is super funny (Nicely done Vam).

    "Ummm... Chocolate"
    "D' oh!, Sorbet"
    "Umm .. Chocolate"
    "D' oh!!"

    I play this in my head and can't stop laughing.

  23. That must have been one YUMMY experience... Beautifully yummmy captures... I'm a vegetarian too :-D and can imagine the concern of the two guys you mentioned in the beginning of the post... :-D

    Pixellicious Photos

  24. Anjuli,
    Welcome to my blog! Thanks for the comment.

    You really like that Simpson, don't you!!

    Thanks. I do think Vegetarians have it hard outside India, but I also notice that a lot of picky eaters give the 'vegetarian' excuse to not try exotic food.

  25. awesome pictures and the food ahhhhh. I'm a foodie and love to try new stuff. french food is one of my favourite. the description of the food and your reaction towards it and pictures here are beautiful. you took that long to eat a full samosa? really!!! :D

    btw, thanks for stopping by my blog. found this awesome one in the process :)

  26. Wow! I keep coming back to this post. Now that you are past lobster and quail eggs, I guess you be called a foodie - officially. :)

  27. Delicious and mouth watering post Vamsee.

  28. colormesunshine,
    Thanks. French food is quite awesome.

    I am getting more and more experimental with food, but I have a long way to go before I become a foodie!!


  29. Yummy, mouth watering fun post is how i would put it!!

    Am a veggie too, but have found there are quite a few places serving some delicious veg fare...

    Enjoyed reading this!! :)esp the watermelon caviar!!

  30. I loved reading this. There is no doubt you are very articulate in writing. But the Photographs were brilliantly composed. Wow! makes me hungry. The lighting was just perfect. Congrats

  31. Hey Vamsee, ur blog is awesome...ever thought about publishing a book? Remember I work at a publishing house and I have the first rights to it :)
    Jayanthi M

  32. i think i just drooled a little on my keyboard...the dessert looks mm mmm mmmm!

  33. food porn...ecstasy ....hmm hmmm. must keep in mind. heading that direction next weekend.

  34. Aarti,
    Thanks and welcome to my blog. Most people use vegetarianism as an excuse....you seem to be an exception. That's cool.

    Thanks. The pictures came out much better than what i expected

    Yeah..right!! I am happy when somebody reads my blog and leaves a comment. Forget publishing ....i barely have time to post new stuff on this blog.

    Have fun in Bangkok. I will be back there in a month and totally looking forward to it.

  35. Wow! Its really astounding. Extremely good photography and the food is really tempting. I just had my lunch and after seeing this pics again I felt like am starving.

  36. I just love reading your blogs and Saru's comments.You are an awesome writer.

  37. Hi Vamsee! Sorry for another long absence, but after a busy start of the year I decided to make a break during the Carnival week, anticipating new hard weeks ahead!!

    Wonderful post. Would you mind sending me the true caviar anytime they offer it to you? ;))

    Meanwhile, Blogtrotter 2 (there is a new one, you know...) is in Haiti, wauiting for your comments. Hope you enjoy and have a great weekend!!

  38. As soon as I read this, I went to the fridge and got myself a big thick dark chocolate to let it melt slowly while typing this. As usual, Vamsee, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your narration, and the humor in between.

    Best wishes for a very happy Holi to you and yours.

  39. I Recently had a traditional party for my Guests in a village and there we were invited for Dal,Bati and Churma.And trust me it was the best food i had ever tried !!Very fantastic..Beautiful post too !!

  40. Wow, this post made me slurp! Lovely photos and write up.

  41. nice post, i think u must try this site to increase traffic. have a nice day !!!